Cat vocal behavior, in particular, the vocal and social behavior of feral cats, is poorly understood, as are the differences between feral and fully domestic cats. The relationship between feral cat social and vocal behavior is important because of the markedly different ecology of feral and domestic cats, and enhanced comprehension of the repertoire and potential information content of feral cat calls can provide both better understanding of the domestication and socialization process, and improved welfare for feral cats undergoing adoption. Previous studies have used conflicting classification schemes for cat vocalizations, often relying on onomatopoeic or popular descriptions of call types (e.g., "miow"). We studied the vocalizations of 13 unaltered domestic cats that complied with our behavioral definition used to distinguish feral cats from domestic. A total of 71 acoustic units were extracted and visually analyzed for the construction of a hierarchical classification of vocal sounds, based on acoustic properties. We identified 3 major categories (tonal, pulse, and broadband) that further breakdown into 8 subcategories, and show a high degree of reliability when sounds are classified blindly by independent observers (Fleiss' Kappa K = 0.863). Due to the limited behavioral contexts in this study, additional subcategories of cat vocalizations may be identified in the future, but our hierarchical classification system allows for the addition of new categories and new subcategories as they are described. This study shows that cat vocalizations are diverse and complex, and provides an objective and reliable classification system that can be used in future studies.
Keywords: bioacoustics; communication; socialization; spectrograms..